Five people have died after being exposed to rare flesh-eating bacteria known to lurk on beaches, Florida officials say.
Known as Vibrio vulnificus, the bacterium’s natural habitat is in warm, salty seawater, as it requires salt to live. It typically grows more quickly in warmer months, according to Florida Health.
Although infections are rare, health officials said those with open wounds, cuts, or scrapes should stay out of the water.
The five reported deaths from the bacterial infections came from Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, and Sarasota counties. There have been 26 reported cases of the rare infection in Florida since January, officials said.
In 2022, there were 74 total cases and 17 deaths. Officials attribute the abnormally high numbers last year to Hurricane Ian, which spilled sewage into the ocean and increased bacteria levels.
Vibrio vulnificus can also cause disease in people who eat raw or undercooked oysters and shellfish.
Just this past week, three people died in Connecticut from the infection. One person was confirmed to have died from eating a raw oyster.
A fourth death in Long Island, New York, is being investigated for links to the rare disease.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said: “While rare, the vibrio bacterium has unfortunately made it to this region and can be extraordinarily dangerous.
“As we investigate further, it is critical that all New Yorkers stay vigilant and take responsible precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including protecting open wounds from seawater and for those with compromised immune systems, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish which may carry the bacteria.”